Sunday, April 28, 2013

Post-Kickstarter Recap & Lessons Learned

It's been almost a week since the Pixel Lincoln Bicycle Card Kickstarter wrapped up, and somehow it feels like a lifetime. And it also feels like it was a completely different life, that I could barely relate to today. I'm sure that sounds crazy, but anyone who has been knee deep in a Kickstarter campaign would probably relate. You are ON for the entire campaign. You will post, repost, comment, tweet, push, pull, refresh, and repeat.

I've only had just a few days off but they have seriously been OFF. At first it's pretty hard to get through a cold-turkey end of campaign. The emails slow down. Twitter is suddenly dead. Something feels off or missing, but it's just real, boring everyday life. Once you get past the quietness there is stage that I call the Kickstarter Coma. Although I have a good amount of post-campaign work to wrap up, there were a few days where I didn't even think of it at all. My mind and body needed a break and took it…. I really had no choice in the matter. I'm just getting out of the coma stage now and ready to think & talk about the campaign. 

This one was considerably more difficult than anything I've ever done before. We were offering a Bicycle brand playing card deck based off of the Pixel Lincoln characters, more specifically Pixel Lincoln: The Deckbuilding Game. I think the deck turned out pretty awesome. I did the graphic design, so I'm obviously biased, but it has a really cool pixel cardback (a pixel duplicate of the classic Bicycle back) and big fat pixel suits, and a few unique things as well. There are 2 additional jokers, the red and black cards represent good vs. evil / Lincoln vs Booth and his baddies, and finally the Jack, Queen and King also double as Copper, Silver and Gold. I wanted the deck to be a little bit more of a basic deck of cards. It featured all 54 standard cards, but also allowed for a few fun variations.

But even with all of that, I think the prime audience for this deck isn't a pixel art fan, a playing card fan, or even a classic video game fan… it's a Pixel Lincoln fan. And part of why this campaign was tough is that Pixel Lincoln is still working it's way out (as of now it's leaving or just left China). So if this were to launch after the deckbuilding game came out, I think we'd have more Pixel Lincoln fans and an easier campaign. If it were after the upcoming Steam game came out, I think we'd have even more Pixel Lincoln fans and an even easier campaign. 


In the end we made it to 132% of our $8000 funding goal. For a while there I was pretty nervous and pretty stressed out. We hovered at about 45% for a while and that's a real stressful number. Most Kickstarters have a mid-way lull, but this felt like forever. We introduced Pixel Lincoln: Twenty One, a mini-expansion to the deckbuilding game, and we had our biggest day yet. It was available as a pledge of its own, or an add-on along with the Bicycle deck. We had 104 backers pledge for just the expansion, many on that first day. This showed me that we have a handful of Pixel Lincoln: The Deckbuilding Game fans, even before the game is out, and that's a really wonderful thing. We also had 150 backers that were already backing the project, which means that they are either Pixel Lincoln fans (awesome!) or new Pixel Lincoln: The Deckbuilding Fans (also awesome). 
But why the separation? Well, it came up a few times.

There were fans of the deckbuilding game that said they didn't care for playing cards, but were happy to pledge for the expansion. And fans of the playing cards that were unhappy with stretch goals relating to the deckbuilding game. It was so confusing because to me, they were together from the start. The cards looked very similar, the characters were the same (in-fact the sprites are exactly the same), but to somebody just learning about the project, or not that interested in board games, these were two completely different things. It was interesting to watch develop, and it weighed heavily on me as I tried to please everyone. 

In the end I learned a few things during this campaign that I hadn't fully experienced before.

1) Be clear about what you are offering and who you are trying to reach.
If I wanted to appeal to fans of the deckbuilding game only, this would have had a different approach. It's easy to say that after the fact, but good to know going forward. If I wanted to appeal to generic video game fans, it needed a different approach as well. Our approach was somewhere in the middle and I think that made it a bit confusing for both sides.

2) You can't please everyone.
Even though we had a semi-split audience, it's easy to see that you can't please everyone. Some people are very vocal and although it may be just one person, it can make you reconsider everything you've ever done. People always say "don't read the comments!", but in this position you really have to. It's your customer, but more importantly a person funding your project. Without them, the project doesn't happen. So in this case, I reached out to the backers to see if specific complaints were more common than I thought. But when you do that and you don't see a bunch of people that agree, it becomes obvious that it's just a small portion of the group that's dissatisfied enough to say something about it. At that point you need to make a judgement and decide which way to go. I always try to please everyone, and in his case I think I came as close as possible to doing so in the end, but man… it's tough.

3) Things can change and they will.
Our last few days were pretty intense. It was a ton of work by me, our sea of supporters, and a few others, but it pushed us well beyond the original goal. Everything that was tweeted by Pixel Lincoln was retweeted by a very loyal group. From there, we had people say "oh, Pixel Lincoln, I never heard of that?!", which says a lot about Twitter as a platform. While the same project was retweeted by these people dozens of times before, followers of theirs would discover it at the very end. Tweets disappear or get buried so quickly that most followers probably don't even see them. So if you think you are being annoying by tweeting 2 or 3 times a day, chances are that only your most connected followers are seeing all three tweets. Some will see one or even none of them, based on how often they log in.

We were lucky enough to add some really great stretch goals at the very end, and connected with Boss Monster / Brotherwise Games, Cards Against Humanity's Max Temkin, Flip the Table and Father Geek. With such awesome people involved and supporting the project, we saw a big push in the end. It was also the last 2 days which can be some of the biggest in a campaign, but they can also fall flat. (The psychology of a Kickstarter project could be a full college major.)

And on the other side of the coin, things can change for the worse. I kept Kicktraq on refresh as well, as the site provides amazing metrics. There I could see how much we needed per day to fund. At one point it was like $250. I'd spend hours promoting the project and wWe'd have a great day with $250 in funding, just to drop down $280 just before midnight and end the day with −$30 earned. It happens. And it's gut-wrenching. 

First half of the campaign. Huge start and very slow after that.

Second half. Big day on 4/1 and a big finish when we hit and exceeded funding.

This leads to my last point. 

4) A long campaign may not be a good idea.
I've always thought that 45 days was just about right. Why? Because of #3 above. With most campaigns, you need to get that big day of support where somebody notices you and gets you out to a bigger audience. I saw this first with Velociraptor Cannibalism. It was doing well until the day that it was Kickstarter's featured project of the day when it skyrocketed in pledges in just a few hours. Now that doesn't always happen, but I've always wanted to go with a longer project to make sure there is enough time to even allow for something like that to happen.

I can't disregard that theory yet, but here's a different theory that comes from the other side. If your project is too long, backers may allocate their "Kickstarter funds" to the next cool thing that comes along. Not everyone has an unlimited amount of funding money, so if you're rolling along and something like Krosmaster Arena pops up, some backers may have to drop the funding from your project because they can't afford both. And who wouldn't want to put their money on Krosmaster Arena?

Now losing a pledge is always brutal, but it makes me realize that it doesn't always mean someone hates your project and they are revolting against you. It might mean that there is something out there that they like more. That's not so bad. I'll try to think about it next time I lose a pledge. (Fingers crossed it doesn't happen).

With all of this in mind, I'm getting ready to jump back into Kickstarter next week with Storyteller Cards. I think I've nailed #1 and I'm torn on #4. It's my first personal campaign in a long time and it's pretty big. I need to get out there and the duration is a huge factor in that. While I'm leaning towards 40 days, part of me wants to do it in a quick 20. I have less than a week to decide..

...diving right back into it.


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